“Fundamentally, anthroposophy intends nothing other than the Sophia – in other words that content of consciousness, that inward experience within the soul – that makes us full human beings. 'Wisdom of the human being' does not accurately reflect the meaning of the word anthroposophy, which should rather be interpreted as 'consciousness of our humanity'"

Rudolph Steiner

Definitions of "anthroposophy"

The word itself

Composed of the Greek words “anthropos” (human being) and “sophia” (wisdom), “anthroposophy” means, literally, “wisdom of the human being”, just as “philosophy” can be translated as “love of wisdom".

The word itself was not invented by Rudolf Steiner but emerged at the beginning of the modern era. It was used as early as 1575 for a “knowledge of natural things” and “intelligence in human affairs”. In the nineteenth century the term was used by Schelling, Troxler and I.H. Fichte as the name of a new field of knowledge that they believed was needed.

During the course of his life Steiner made various attempts to briefly summarise what he meant by anthroposophy:

“Anthroposophy is a consciousness of our humanity”
(GA 257, lecture of 13 February 1923)

“A method for investigating and testing what is generally human and general world phenomena”
(address on 19 August 1923, GA 259, p. 173 f.)

"Anthroposophy is a path of knowledge that aims to lead what is spiritual in the human being to the spirit in the cosmos.”
(GA 26, p.14)

Rudolf Steiner originally did not want any fixed appellation for the path of knowledge and practice proposed by him. On the contrary, he tried to find different words for it, so as to counteract any apparent impression of a closed system of teachings.

Steiner also uses the synonymous terms “spiritual science”, “anthroposophical spiritual science” or “occult science”, for instance in one of his chief works: “Occult Science – An Outline” (GA 13). In a narrower sense Steiner uses the term as the title of an unfinished book in which anthroposophy is assigned an intermediate position between theosophy and anthropology (GA 45).

Anthroposophy is a path of knowledge

1. Anthroposophy is a path of knowledge, to guide the spiritual in the human being to the spiritual in the universe. It arises in man as a need of the heart, of the life of feeling; and it can be justified only inasmuch as it can satisfy this inner need. He alone can acknowledge Anthroposophy, who finds in it what he himself in his own inner life feels impelled to seek. Hence only they can be anthroposophists who feel certain questions on the nature of man and the universe as an elemental need of life, just as one feels hunger and thirst.

2. Anthroposophy communicates knowledge that is gained in a spiritual way. Yet it only does so because everyday life, and the science founded on sense-perception and intellectual activity, lead to a barrier along life's way — a limit where the life of the soul in man would die if it could go no farther. Everyday life and science do not lead to this limit in such a way as to compel man to stop short at it. For at the very frontier where the knowledge derived from sense perception ceases, there is opened through the human soul itself the further outlook into the spiritual world.

3. There are those who believe that with the limits of knowledge derived from sense perception the limits of all insight are given. Yet if they would carefully observe how they become conscious of these limits, they would find in the very consciousness of the limits the faculties to transcend them. The fish swims up to the limits of the water; it must return because it lacks the physical organs to live outside this element. Man reaches the limits of knowledge attainable by sense perception; but he can recognise that on the way to this point powers of soul have arisen in him — powers whereby the soul can live in an element that goes beyond the horizon of the senses.

Rudolf Steiner: Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts)